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Masaryk's House of Culture (MKD)

Josef Širce, Jan B. Zelený, Bedřich Zeman

history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)1930 | competition

(detail)1935 | Foundation stone

(detail)1936 | opening


Josef Širce |main architect
Jan B. Zelený |main architect
Bedřich Zeman |main architect
František Albert Libra |architect - participant of the competition
V. Kolátor |architect - participant of the competition
Ferdinand Balcárek |architect - participant of the competition
V. Frýda |architect - participant of the competition
Karel Kopp |architect - participant of the competition
Václav Nový |builder
Oskar Kozák |sculptor
(detail)Vincenc Makovský |sculptor

One of the leading representatives of the interwar period, his early works followed  Cubism  and Surrealism  , as a member of Surrealistická skupina , later Abstract art .  He returned to traditional expressions after WW2.

Source: Wikipedia

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Perhaps the oldest theatre in Mělník was the hall,  established in 1834, in the first floor of the town hall building. The first amateur theatre company, founded in 1859, performed on a new stage in a hall of the Vykysal hotel from 1865 and on a summer stage in the town hall garden since 1871 as well; they purchased sceneries from the abolished Mikulášské (Švestkovo) Theatre in Prague in 1881 for this new location. Even this hall was not sufficient for growing popularity of the theatre.

The mayor of the Sokol with the mayor of the city decided to build a permanent theatre, operated by a  theatrical association,  and the city consented to that. More than 10 000 Guldens were raised in a short time; the expenses were estimated at 18 000 Guldens. The city was provided with  two designs in 1866, one from Jan  Koul and other from Dobroslav  Klusáček. Their consideration and additionally the consideration of the intended construction site was requested from O. Materna, a technical inspector in the National Theatre. The result of his visit was rejection of both the designs and submitting his own design of a pretentious theatre building in the Neo –Renaissance  style, which he delivered on the beginning of October. However,  the costs of its realization exceeded three times the anticipated budget and furthermore, it was too large for the construction site, which was provided by the city for the construction for free. Therefore, the city council said a word of thanks to  Materna and expressed regret that without “any specific incentive, he worked out so expensive project, which surpasses ourconditions and possibilities” The theatre construction was called off for a very long time. The dilapidated Sokol arena had to be torn down in 1895; money  aside for construction of a new theatre  had remained in the fund and  was used for a new construction not before 1928.

The plan of a new theatre was revived already after the First World War, but no further action happened before 1928. By the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the independent state, Josef Tykal, the mayor of the city and a deputy,  proposed to build a house of culture that would be a liberation memorial   and  a memorial   of fallen and would concentrate the entire cultural life of the city: a library, reading room, museum , lectures, concerts and theatre. The city council approved the proposal on 28th of October.

It was decided to merge the existing fund, gathering means for a liberation memorial, with the museum fund and first of all the theatre fund (set already in 1884) for this purpose; they succeeded in gathering 357 000 Crowns until the end of that year with a generous gift from a saving bank and other donations.

A convenient plot was being selected in 1929. The city purchased 3 500 fathoms of a vineyard, called Šafranice, on the east from the city centre for the planned Masaryk House of Culture. The Committee for Construction of the House of Culture in Mělník announced a competition for a design of a new building with a town planning layout of the surrounding area.

The construction site is composed of the individual block of  120 m in length and 70 m in width. The area around the MKD is determined to be a park. The neighbourhood of the construction site is unfavourably built over with residential houses on a slope. The construction site is visible well  from three sides as well and the building of MKD predominates in the silhouette of the city.  – Building programme: 1. Let the building be a liberation memorial and let the memorial be arranged conveniently; 2. A theatrical hall for 600 persons; 3. Rooms of library and a reading room with a minor hall, 4. A museum 220 m2. All the rooms with perfect equipment.“ The original assignment contained an individual cinema hall apart of that.

The competition was concluded on 30th April. The jury decided not to award the first prize, the second prize was awarded to the design named „T. G. Masaryk“ by Mělník natives Josef Širce and Bedřich Zeman. The third prize, raised to  6 000 Crowns against the original plan, was received by the design named „78“ by F. Balcárek and Kopp. One of the two additionally awarded fourth prizes (both priced with 4 000 Crowns) was acquired by the design “Along the contours” by V. Frýda and V. Kolátor; the second one by “the Green Disc” by  František  A. Libra. The committee also decided to purchase the design „Q“ with regards to its lowest building volume.

However, the estimated costs of realization of the winning design were again too high. The design by Širce and Zeman calculated with the cost of 3 million  Crowns and the building volume of 22 500 m3. The city decided to commission the authors to elaborate a new design – with incorporation of some valued elements from competing designs – and assigned the entire project to an independent association that came into existence in 1932 from the hitherto municipal committee.

A new general design was emerging in 1933 and 1934, on which Širec and Zeman cooperated with Jan B. Zelený, a head of the municipal building office. The result was a project that consumed only 13 000 m3  and  with projected  costs of 1 600 000 Crowns. It was necessary to exclude  the intended cinema hall out of the original design; Širec with  Zeman elaborated the design of the cinema Sokol, built in 1933–1934 to Mělník Sokol hall (Tyrš’ House) from 1904, simultaneously with the designs of MKD. The capacity of the theatre hall was reduced from 1 000 to 600 persons. Originally designed side wings had been removed, so it was necessary to relocate the more modest library into the main building. The largest reduction affected the museum, its planned pavilion with twelve rooms was shrunk into mere one exhibition room and store room.

The adjusted designs,  modified in details in the course of the realization, were presented in a memorial publication, issued at the beginning of the construction. The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 10th March of 1935, three days after the  85th  birthday of T. G. Masaryk. The grandiose inaugural ceremony was carried in the national spirit and reminded that the construction of the house of culture was perceived by its proponents as a demonstrative “barrier against the German elements” in a complicated era of a national struggle. The motto of the building became the Masaryk’s utterance :” the final salvation of ours is contained in morality and education.

The construction was initiated on 28th June. The construction was directed by builder Václav Nový, the former district mayor and the head of the association. The building of the house of culture was completed within one year precisely on 28th June of 1936. Some details were being discussed up to the last moment, among other, whether the floor should be flat,  which  would enable its use as a dancing hall; strictly theatrical floor on a gradient  had won in the end. J. Adámek designed the layout of the neighbouring park. The statue of T.G. Masaryk on the staircase against the main entrance was created by Vincenc Makovský; according to the period commentary, it was “conceived as a theme : , I shall be watching you…‘“

The operation of the theatre was initiated with  Our Swaggerers by Ladislav Stroupežnický,  performed by the  Vojan company (the  music for it was composed by student of Mělník Gymnasium  Jaroslav Krombholc). Over 7 000 people paid a visit to an exhibition about the cultural traditions in Mělník area  that was presented in the museum hall until October 1936. The completed structure was reviewed by the editors of the periodical Architekt SIA in a brief notice to the report of J. Zelený thus : “ The plan  layout represents qualities of a practical and economical solution within a significantly complicated and demanding project. This was perhaps the reason that the the exterior has not achieved sufficient unity and therefore monumentality, which would be very convenient here.“

The Masaryk’s House of Culture has been preserved in an almost original state, without any significant modification. Functional and layout modifications were carried out mainly out of the theatrical part. A distinctive impact  to the character of the interiors was a light  exchange, which was carried out perhaps at the end of the 1970s; the original simple lighting fixtures in the vestibule and other rooms were replaced by more ornamental chandeliers and mural lights.


The largest  change in the theatre hall was an alteration of the rear section of the balcony: a new light and sound booth was inserted into the existing empty area with standing rooms. The modification was carried out not before 1982; the popular movie How the World Is Losing Poets that was being shot in this year in Mělník and the house of culture still depicted the theatre hall in its original state.

Some other modifications were only temporary. The Masaryk’ s statue by Makovský could not stand on the staircase during the Communist regime and it was restored here not before the 1990s; not before then, one succeeded in placing the soil from Zborov battlefield from the First World War into urns on the sides of the monument. The Masaryk’s House of Culture has been declared a cultural monument for its high degree of originality and undeniable architectural quality.  


Present state

Masaryk's House of Culture is located eastwards from the city centre, in the middle of a small park between U Sadu and  Nad Šafranicí streets. 28th October Street leads to its main entrance from the centre. The shape of the building on an oblong plan reflects the interior layout of the house, composed of a central wing with foyers and staircase, a theatre hall in the left section and minor halls and administrative background on the right. A distinctive feature of the modest architecture is the alternation of smooth plaster  and brickwork surfaces. The entrance facade, alike as the entire structure, is spread to the width. Its expression is determined by the composition of individual blocks, distinguished by height, surfacing and   frequency  of window openings alike as in the other facades. Rectangular volumes and flats of the facades and windows are complemented by a semicircular “apse”, rounding off the left side of the house (low podiums of the exhibition and museum hall are inserted in it).

The rectangle of the tripartite main entrance, in front of which a paved area with several stairs is located, is covered with travertine. The flat in the first floor behind a shallow balcony is composed of brickwork in a projecting bright frame, interrupted by a triple of windows in the lower part. The inscription Masaryk’s House of Culture above the windows  is modern; originally it used to be located on a block on the left from the entrance in a different appearance.

An elongated foyer that is located perpendicularly to the entrance facade runs into a monumental  staircase. The original character of the interior is disturbed only by more recent mural and ceiling lights.  The vestibule of the theatre hall with cloakrooms is located on the left along the foyer, the auditorium is entered through here through a couple of two leaf doors with characteristic small circular hatches. The architects inserted a front balcony above the ascending auditorium, both with straight rows of seats. The balcony continues with five boxes, gradually recessed in plan, along the side walls of the hall, of “not very fortunate layout” according to Jiří Hilmera, that do not improve the not very good visibility. The boxes are divided by wooden partitions.

The ceiling of the auditorium from Heraklit boards has its acoustical and art qualities, however, ransomed by constructional demandingness ( the boards are suspended on steel girders, which are hardly accessible) and very low insulation value. A threefold continuous band of lights is inserted in the middle of the ceiling; another  lighting of the auditorium is provided by mural lights with indirect lightning.

The walls on the sides of the proscenium arch, to which a balcony is adjoined in the first floor, are broken three times backwards in the width of the forestage; the flat proscenium arch is attached to them with an unarticulated rectangular opening. The proscenium arch is 8 m wide, the acting area measures circa 8 × 9 m.

The dressing rooms, accessible from outside through an individual entrance, are located by the rear wall of the stage. The ground floor of the block on the right side from the foyer originally served as an exhibition hall and library; there is an administrative background in the present day.

The foyer leads to a monumental staircase with a statue on a plinth of T.G. Masaryk against the main entrance. The same bright marble cladding as on walls of the foyer is interrupted by vertical black strips, on which the inscription “the life of the nation / from the sacrifice of sons” , on the wall behind the statue. The staircase splits on the landing into two arms that lead into the upper foyer with overhead lightning. The wall of the impressive space is ornamented with a painting by Otakara Nejedlý. One proceeds from here into a small hall above the entrance facade of the building, which was originally meant to be a memorial, and into a museum hall, divided with partitions into two smaller rooms in the present day. On the left, there is a vestibule with cloakrooms, entrances to the balcony of the theatre hall and with a newly inserted technical booth in the area of former standing rooms.

With the exception of more recent lights and details as is for instance   plaster colouring, affected by alterations in the 1990s, the Masaryk’s House of Culture has retained a high level of authenticity including for instance the original doors or parts of original furnishing in both the vestibules.  

There is a memorial of Capt. Jaroš by Oskar Kozák from 1958 in a small park in front of the house of culture.


Stavitel XI, 1930, s. 16

Stavba VIII, 1929–1930, s. 195

– K. Bradáč – Vratislav Čermák – F. Mráz – Jan B. Zelený (red.), Masarykův kulturní dům na Mělníce, Mělník 1935

– Jan Zelený, Masarykův kulturní dům na Mělníce, Architekt SIA XXXVI, 1937, č. 3, s. 46–48 (podle textu vyšla zpráva o soutěži v Architektu SIA 1932, tam se ji ale nepodařilo najít)

– Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 134, 289, 300, obr. 197

Lukáš Rajnoch, Masarykův kulturní dům, seminární práce, stavební fakulta ČVUT, Praha 2006, kopie v archivu Masarykova kulturního domu


Tags: Culture house, Functionalism, Interwar period, detached building


Author: Iva Karásková

Translator: Jan Purkert

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